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Dardenne Prairie back to drawing board for parks expansion

One option that Dardenne Prairie officials have been exploring to add new park facilities may be out of consideration. Throughout July, city officials discussed various options for expanding its parks, and whether and how the city could pay for them.

One idea involved approaching St. Charles Community College [SCC] about acquiring the former Barat Academy gymnasium and sports fields adjacent to Barathaven Park.

City officials said one possibility involved leasing or buying some of these facilities, which could be developed into an addition to offer indoor and outdoor programs year-round, including a summer camp for kids.

But, in a note posted on the city’s website on July 19, Mayor David Zucker said the city was informed by SCC that “they were not going to sell, lease or share facilities with Dardenne Prairie.”

“That news was disappointing,” Zucker stated in the post. “It means the potential option of expanding the existing city park at Barathaven by adding the gym and grounds next to the soccer fields is no longer available.”

Zucker, who was out of town, could not be reached for further comment.

SCC officials did not comment on specifics of the city’s request.

“St. Charles Community College is currently working on a business plan to establish a healthy living center concept at One Academy Place in Dardenne Prairie,” read a statement from Barbara Kavalier, president of the SCC. The college is exploring ways to provide educational opportunities that may involve health, sustainable culinary arts and physical wellness for our students and the community. As part of that plan, we will continue to work with area partners who may be interested in leasing the gym or fields when they are not in use by the college.”

College officials said they hope to expand SCC’s nursing and health programs and provide more workforce and industry course offerings for students. They bought the property for $9.45 million from Lindenwood University in December 2016. The property holds a 69,000-square-foot building and 28 acres, including a gymnasium.

The purchase was the latest chapter in the property’s evolving story.

Barat Academy opened as a private, independent, Catholic high school in 2007 but moved to Chesterfield in 2011 after being evicted from the property. In 2012, Lindenwood bought the property for $8.1 million. The university and SCC used the school in partnership for their nursing programs.

In 2015, Lindenwood moved its nursing program back to its St. Charles campus, and SCC continued to hold classes at the site until they acquired it in 2016.

Meanwhile, the city of Dardenne Prairie continues to examine other options for adding park facilities.

One option is developing a community center on 10 acres at the corner of Post Road and Hwy. N, a spot which the city owns and has been trying to sell. The center could provide a venue for indoor sports, classes, public meetings and other activities.

Another option might involve foregoing all park expansion and instead using the money the city has in its general fund – which funds most city departments – for more construction and repair of city streets.

Choosing either of the first two options could cost the city more than $5 million. Zucker said city voters would have to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund either of them. The “Parks & Storm Water Tax” would pay for the debt service to build a park, and provide revenue to pay for expanding recreational programs and park maintenance.

Dardenne Prairie also is exploring the use of some form of bond financing, as part of financing any new park facilities or improvements.

Zucker said earlier in July that the city would not pursue either of the two options without voter approval of the sales tax, which could be placed on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. If adopted, the city’s sale tax would still be lower than Wentzville, Lake Saint Louis and most of O’Fallon. The board has yet to make that determination. The deadline for placing ballot measures on the November ballot is 5 p.m. on Aug. 29.

The city already provides outdoor recreation for small children at City Park, adjacent to City Hall at 2032 Hanley Road, as well as youth baseball at a nearby ballfield. The city is committed to upgrading those ballfields, which are currently owned by the Dardenne Athletic Association. Transferring ownership to the city as planned will include paving a gravel parking lot, improving lighting and building new restrooms.

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